African American Conspiracy Theories and the Social Construction of Crime

  • Sasson T
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This article examines conspiracy theories about crime, drugs, and violence expressed by African American residents of Boston, Massachusetts. The theories attribute crime and violence to the clandestine actions of powerful whites. The data upon which the article is based were gathered in a series of peer group discussions among participants in neighborhood crime watch groups. The article describes the prevalence of the conspiracy theories in the sample of peer group discussions. It also advances arguments to explain why the theories persist and why they tend to be expressed in vague and multiple forms. The conspiracy theories are a type of social problems discourse. As such, they have a good deal in common with other forms of social problems discourse, especially urban legends. Both urban legends and conspiracy theories are communicated principally by word of mouth and primarily among groups that lack the organizational capacity to make claims in the public sphere. Interestingly, however, the urban legend features either an "elaborate narrative structure" or specific plot.

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  • Theodore Sasson

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